Here we go – Kickoff Weekend and the 100th season of NFL Football is here. The Bills start their 60th season with a visit to New Jersey and a game against the Jets, division rivals since both teams were born.
Here are some of the top issues regarding the Bills’ season, the matchup with the Jets, and the rest of the NFL:
1. WHY NOT US?
They playoff drought is dead, but it’s still just one playoff appearance in the last 19 years of Bills football. Is this year the start of a new trend?
Former NFL QB Rich Gannon, who played 17 seasons in the league, is the color analyst for Sunday’s Bills-Jets game on the NFL on CBS. One Bills Live asked Gannon if this year’s team can make the playoffs?
“I don’t see why not. You can turn things around really quickly in this business,” Gannon answered. “This is a (Bills) team that’s got some really good players. Defense is going to be their strength-they’re going to have to hang their hat on their defense for the first month of the season. And I think they’ve got some playmakers on offense.”
2. “BIG LEAP FORWARD” FOR JOSH ALLEN
The Bills chances for success hinge on the right arm of second-year quarterback Josh Allen. And long-time NFL reporter Chris Mortensen says he saw mostly positive signs in Allen’s 12 games for the Bills last year.
“I think he has shown, in some areas where his critics didn’t realize, how smart he is,” Mortensen told One Bills Live. “What a good team guy he is. The only thing I worry about Josh is how competitive he is — to his own detriment physically. I think everybody got to see that last year. At the same time, he’ll make you stand up out of your seat.”
Mortensen, senior NFL analyst at ESPN, says this season will be big for Josh Allen.
“This is going to begin another year of growth for Josh,” he says. “I just think that Josh is going to be a star in the league. And I think it will happen over the course of three years when he hits his stride. And I expect him to take a big leap forward this year.”
3. PRESSURE OR COVERAGE FROM JETS DEFFENSE?
The test for Josh Allen this week is the Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, known for his focus on unconventional pressure packages and man coverage downfield. That might not be the case this week.
Rich Gannon of CBS says the Jets have question marks at cornerback, that may mean less pressure and more coverage this week against Allen and the Bills.
“I think Gregg Williams can go one of two ways,” Gannon said this week. “If you really studied Gregg Williams last year in Cleveland, they played a lot of two-deep coverage, zone and man. And then, of course, his fastball is the pressure.”
“If I’m Gregg Williams I have to find out if Josh Allen has the answers early. I’m going to pressure him early. My sense is he may not blitz a lot. He may try to take care of his corners with some two-deep coverage. I’d be shocked if he goes all-out pressure against Josh Allen.”
4. BELL’S THE BELL-COW
The Jets biggest weapon offensively should be running back Le’Veon Bell, ready to pick up his career after being on the sideline for an entire season.
He made three Pro Bowls in his five years in Pittsburgh and demonstrated a unique, patient running style that sees him wait behind the line of scrimmage for holes to develop. The Bills expect him to still have that approach in his first game back.
“His running style is a little bit different than most,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said this week. “He’s a very patient runner who has the ability to make people miss. He breaks a lot of tackles and is a strong running back, has a real good stiff-arm. He presents some problems for you, there’s no question about it.”
Frazier says with no Jets game tape involving Bell, the Bills must be ready for anything from the talented runner and pass-catcher.
5. BILLS RUNNING BACK BY COMMITTEE ASSEMBLES
Bills general manager Brandon Beane says even if LeSean McCoy were still on the roster, the Bills planned on having “running back by committee” this year.
So now, the committee includes Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, and T.J. Yeldon against the Jets.
In an appearance on One Bills Live this week, Beane said the Bills like what they’ve seen from their rookie running back, Devin Singletary, but they’re not quite sure what they’ll get this week.
“The biggest unknown was probably Devin, and he still is unknown,” Beane said. “He still hasn’t played a regular season game. Devin was basically just used as a runner when he was at Florida Atlantic. He was very rarely used in the passing game. That was one of the things we had to figure out. What are his hands, what’s his feel for the pass game? Pass pro itself-understand where the free man is coming from. And then, technique. I thought early in camp, Devin struggled a little bit, but he figured it out.”
6. BILLS AND JETS IN RACE FOR WILD CARD SPOT?
The conventional preseason thinking is that either the Bills or the Jets will finish second in the AFC East this year and compete for a Wild Card playoff spot. They’re expected to be close at the end of the season.
But the Bills have had a much better record than New York over the last five years. Since 2014, the Jets have won a total of 28 games. In the same five years, the Bills have won 39.
Buffalo has one playoff appearance in that five-year span, the Jets have none.
7. HOW DO THEY LOOK?
New coaches, some new players, and new uniforms for the New York Jets this year. They unveiled them in April, a sleeker design with a darker shade of green. The Jets also have a third uniform in all-black.
Jets acting owner Christopher Johnson knows new uniforms go only so far when it comes to pleasing fans.
“They’ll like it a hell of a lot more if we win games,” he said when the uniforms were made public.
8. THIS QB FITZ IN
The Dolphins open their season at 1 pm Sunday with a home game against Baltimore. And Miami is going with Ryan Fitzpatrick, not Josh Rosen, as their starter at quarterback.
With the start, Fitzpatrick will become the first quarterback in NFL history to start for eight different teams in the NFL. He’s started for the Rams, the Bengals, the Bills, the Titans, the Texans, the Jets, the Bucs, and now Miami.
“It’s something that’s never been done before,” he told the Dolphins website. “The career I’ve had and the different places I’ve been, this means a lot to me. I think being able to do it here with a younger group where it’s going to rely so much on communication and I’ve got to make sure I’m at my best on every single play, whether it’s during the play or before at the line of scrimmage.”
Fitz started 53 games for the Bills in his four years in Buffalo – the most he’s ever started with one team.